Top 5 Cities for Chefs: Join the Movement

by Sean Kenniff with Antoinette Bruno
Antoinette Bruno
February 2014

Top 5 Cities for Chefs: Join the Movement

During the last several years Austin, Asheville, Brooklyn, Portland, and Portland have become bastions of chef-kind and not only for economic reasons like relatively low rents. The supportive communities (packed with students—the flat broke and trust-funders alike) that gentrification and revitalization help bring together are filled with artists, entrepreneurs, artisans, and other culinary professionals—and they're hungry. Chefs are building an interconnected dining culture that is self-perpetuating.

Brewers Tim Gormley and Doug Reiser Burial Beer Co. – Asheville, NC

Brewers Tim Gormley and Doug Reiser Burial Beer Co. – Asheville, NC

Chocolate Terrine with Candied Cashews, Muscavado Sugar, and Pineapple Lace at Wildwood

Chocolate Terrine with Candied Cashews, Muscavado Sugar, and Pineapple Lace at Wildwood

Cured Mountain Trout Terrine with Roe, Rye, Buttermilk Butter, and Crispy Skin at Cucina24

Cured Mountain Trout Terrine with Roe, Rye, Buttermilk Butter, and Crispy Skin at Cucina24

Hand Pulled Lobster Bun with Brown Butter Vinaigrette and Chive at Eventide Oyster Bar

Hand Pulled Lobster Bun with Brown Butter Vinaigrette and Chive at Eventide Oyster Bar

Maine Mead Works - Portland, ME

Maine Mead Works - Portland, ME

Mediterranean Octopus, Romesco, Gigante Lima Beans, and Salsa Verde at The Bull and Beggar

Mediterranean Octopus, Romesco, Gigante Lima Beans, and Salsa Verde at The Bull and Beggar

Morels, Shallots, and Butter at Fore Street

Morels, Shallots, and Butter at Fore Street

New Jersey Diver Scallops with House Made Lardo, Black Garlic, and Ramps at Roberta's

New Jersey Diver Scallops with House Made Lardo, Black Garlic, and Ramps at Roberta's

Owner-roasteyr Brandon Smyth of Water Avenue Coffee - Portland, OR

Owner-roasteyr Brandon Smyth of Water Avenue Coffee - Portland, OR

Seared Butter-Poached Halibut, Maitake, Sweet Potatoes, and Radicchio Vin Cotto at Table

Seared Butter-Poached Halibut, Maitake, Sweet Potatoes, and Radicchio Vin Cotto at Table

Short Rib Pastrami, Fingerling Potatoes, and Braised Cabbage at Battersby

Short Rib Pastrami, Fingerling Potatoes, and Braised Cabbage at Battersby

Speck-wrapped Halibut, Cannellini Beans, Baby Leeks, and Green Garlic Aioli at Nostrana

Speck-wrapped Halibut, Cannellini Beans, Baby Leeks, and Green Garlic Aioli at Nostrana

The Holy Donut - Portland, ME

The Holy Donut - Portland, ME

Tonka Bean Gelato, Almond Panna Cotta, Nitro Cherry, Coconut Milk Puree, Chocolate Crisp, and Coconut Croquant at Uchi

Tonka Bean Gelato, Almond Panna Cotta, Nitro Cherry, Coconut Milk Puree, Chocolate Crisp, and Coconut Croquant at Uchi

Veal Sweetbreads, Juusto Baked Cheese, Apple Butter, Almonds, Mint, and Fried Quail Egg at The Admiral

Veal Sweetbreads, Juusto Baked Cheese, Apple Butter, Almonds, Mint, and Fried Quail Egg at The Admiral

White Jasmine Truffles at French Broad Chocolate Lounge

White Jasmine Truffles at French Broad Chocolate Lounge

In Asheville, North Carolina, The Admiral begot Table, Cucuina24, and Bull and Beggar. In Portland, Maine, first and foremost there was Sam Hayword's Fore Street (est. 1996), paving the way for restaurants like five fifty five and Hugo's, followed by Duckfat and, in 2013, Eventide. Uchi birthed baby Uchis and gave Austin, Texas its own style of sushi. All roads lead back to Heathman Kitchen (est. 1984) in Portland, Oregon, where Greg Higgins got his start before opening Higgins in 1994, about the same time that Wildwood (closed February 2014, sadly) and Paley's Place came on the scene, which further cleared the way for (since 2005) Nostrana, Pok Pok, Le Pigeon, Beast, and The Woodsman Tavern in 2011. And in NYC's Brooklyn, Roberta's gave way to Blanca, and also paved the way for Brooklyn Fare and Battersby. (We know Brooklyn is actually a borough, but if it were a city, it would be fourth largest by population behind the rest of the boroughs, L.A., and Chicago.)       

These cities have a momentum and special energy. A magnetism, beauty, and bounty that allows chefs to flourish (doing whatever the hell they want: donuts, meads, syrups) often  times building from the ground up—from hot dog carts to fine-dining destinations. They are crystal balls for our food nation, creating trends from foraging and micro-roasteries to craft beer, bean-to-bar chocolate, and oyster bars. We've put together a few stats that illuminate the culinary charisma of these cities, where chefs converge for quality of life and end up as big fish in a small pond (and often end up influencing the bigger national scene). We encourage you to visit, if not get up and move all together. See you in the boom towns!  

                       

Asheville

Why chefs make the move and why we'd move there: We love Asheville for the Art Deco, for the beer, for the coffee, for the chocolate, and for the entire French Broad River District. But most of all we love Asheville for the sense of community among its chefs and their unbridled creativity. Not only the natives rally behind their chefs; tourism fortifies the restaurant industry in Asheville, as well. And for you New York City chefs out there, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Asheville gets you the equivalent of a refrigerator box under a Brooklyn-Queens Expressway overpass—just saying.         

Brewer Luke  Dickinson of Wicked Weed Brewing – Asheville, NC

Brewer Luke Dickinson of Wicked Weed Brewing – Asheville, NC

Chicken Liver Pâté, Pickles, and Pistachio Pesto at Seven Sows

Chicken Liver Pâté, Pickles, and Pistachio Pesto at Seven Sows

Crispy Sweetbreads, Western Carolina BBQ Sauce, Turnips, Celery Salad, Blue Cheese Dressing at The Market Place

Crispy Sweetbreads, Western Carolina BBQ Sauce, Turnips, Celery Salad, Blue Cheese Dressing at The Market Place

Finca Kilamangaro at Mountain Air Roasting

Finca Kilamangaro at Mountain Air Roasting

Grilled Secreto Ibérico, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, Yogurt, and Yogurt-Celery Root Espuma at Curate

Grilled Secreto Ibérico, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, Yogurt, and Yogurt-Celery Root Espuma at Curate

Population: 83,433
Number of craft breweries: 11 (most of any American city)
Tourism: nearly 10 million annual visitors
Tourism Dollars: tourists spend more than $200 million on dining out
Annual restaurant sales: $660,420,628
Annual sales per restaurant: $676,660
Restaurants: 976
Restaurants per capita: 85
Average apartment rent: $830 per month (2 bedroom)
Colleges and universities: 10 including University of North Carolina-Asheville
Population growth rate: 2.8%
Median yearly temperature: 55.6°F

Austin

Why chefs make the move and why we'd move there: There's freedom in Austin. Whether you want to take tacos from a truck to a super sleek fine dining restaurant, create sushi nachos, or deep-fry duck testicles, you have an audience in Austin. The capital city's reputation as a liberal oasis trickles down into the food culture of this sprawling, constantly booming Texas town. And despite Austin's magnetism for entrepreneurs, creative types, free-spirits, and adventurous chefs with an independent streak, cost of living remains comparatively reasonable. Living in a city where donning a Stetson hat and slipping into some cowboy boots is de rigueur, is just an added bonus.       

Countryside Farms Duck, Candied Kumquats, Pickled Endive, and Rosemary Smoke at Uchiko

Countryside Farms Duck, Candied Kumquats, Pickled Endive, and Rosemary Smoke at Uchiko

Crescent Duck Breast and Confit Leg, Three-day Mole, Sesame Seeds, Grilled Green Beans, Carolina Rice, and Crema at La Condesa

Crescent Duck Breast and Confit Leg, Three-day Mole, Sesame Seeds, Grilled Green Beans, Carolina Rice, and Crema at La Condesa

Grilled Rabbit Terrine, Bacon-Liver Mousse, French Breakfast Radishes, and Sweet Texas Onions at Barley Swine

Grilled Rabbit Terrine, Bacon-Liver Mousse, French Breakfast Radishes, and Sweet Texas Onions at Barley Swine

Seared Beef Tongue Sandwich, Red Pepper Relish, Smoked Green Onions, and Aioli at the Noble Pig

Seared Beef Tongue Sandwich, Red Pepper Relish, Smoked Green Onions, and Aioli at the Noble Pig

Veal Shank, Cauliflower Sauté, Calabrese Peppers, and Parsnip Purée at TreTrattoria

Veal Shank, Cauliflower Sauté, Calabrese Peppers, and Parsnip Purée at TreTrattoria

Population: 842,592
Population growth rate: 6.6%
Rank among U.S. cities for attracting and retaining the young and educated: 8
Food trucks: 600
Restaurants: more than 1,000
Restaurants per capita: (est.) 700
Restaurants with Zagat rating 25+: 37
Annual restaurant sales: $2,821,181,572
Annual sales per restaurant: $769,553
Average apartment rent: $1050 per month (2 bedroom)
Rank among American cities for per capita music venues: 1
Colleges and universities: 13 including University of Texas at Austin 
Median yearly temperature: 68.3°F

Brooklyn

Why chefs make the move and why we moved there: We love Brooklyn for being a cradle for chefs who firmly believe that "If you build it, they will come," even all the way from the Upper West Side. We don't think we have to explain why chefs are flocking to NYC and then across the East River, but most of the benefits to being a Brooklyn chef arise from the fact that Brooklyn is not Manhattan. Also, move here if you like beards, bikes, beer, suspenders, and knit caps in summer (and if you'd like to visit StarChef HQ, we're just over the Williamsburg Bridge).     

Berkshire Belly at Fette Sau

Berkshire Belly at Fette Sau

Chicken Breast and Dirty Farro at Parish Hall

Chicken Breast and Dirty Farro at Parish Hall

Duck Leg Agnolotti, Porchini Mushroons, Pine Nuts, and Spigarello Flowers at The Pines

Duck Leg Agnolotti, Porchini Mushroons, Pine Nuts, and Spigarello Flowers at The Pines

The Speedy Romeo Pizza Grilled Dough, Ricotta, Pomodorini, Basil, Lemon, and Chili at Speedy Romeo

The Speedy Romeo Pizza Grilled Dough, Ricotta, Pomodorini, Basil, Lemon, and Chili at Speedy Romeo

Wagyu Beef with Horseradish on an Onion Roll at Mile End Deli

Wagyu Beef with Horseradish on an Onion Roll at Mile End Deli

Population: 2.5 million
Population growth rate: 2.1% (2010), (9.4% from 2000-2010)
Average rent: $2,587 per month
Restaurants: 46,459 (according to Yelp)
Restaurants per capita: 54
Zagat rated restaurants: 250
Michelin star restaurants: Brooklyn Fare (3), Aska, Blanca, Peter Luger (1)  
Michelin Bib Gourmand: 34
Colleges and Universities: 17
Yearly visitors to NYC: 52.7 million
Median yearly temperature: 54.4°F

Portland, Maine

Why chefs make the move and why we'd move there: Brooklyn is actually only affordable in comparison to Manhattan—one of the most expensive places to live and do business in the free world. Portland has the same young, vibrant energy but in a much smaller, more manageable package. The population is, arguably, more welcoming, as well. And while both trend-setting enclaves are on the Atlantic coast, none of Brooklyn's great restaurants have ocean views than can even come close to matching what guests can see from Portland's dining rooms. Sure, winters are marginally harsher, but there's no suffering through dirty, gritty, humid city summers. New York restaurants like Atera and Eleven Madison Park have foragers based in Portland. Chefs are closer to the land there. 2009 New York Rising Star Chef Damien Sansonetti left Bar Boulud for Portland with his wife, Pastry Chef Ilma Lopez, to raise a family and today has two places: Piccolo and Blue Rooster. For chefs, the power of possibility is the siren call of Portland.    

Chilled Razor Clams, Smoked Paprika Oil, Chile Ice, Confit potatoes, and Dehydrated Black Olive at Eventide Oyster Bar

Chilled Razor Clams, Smoked Paprika Oil, Chile Ice, Confit potatoes, and Dehydrated Black Olive at Eventide Oyster Bar

Pizzelle, Goats Milk Ricotta, Roasted Nectarines, Abruzzi Honey, and Olive Oil at Piccolo

Pizzelle, Goats Milk Ricotta, Roasted Nectarines, Abruzzi Honey, and Olive Oil at Piccolo

Sazae Tsubayaki (Butter-poached Maine Welk), Seared Scallops, Sendai Miso Sauce, and Pickled White Asparagus at Miyake

Sazae Tsubayaki (Butter-poached Maine Welk), Seared Scallops, Sendai Miso Sauce, and Pickled White Asparagus at Miyake

Snell Farm Blueberry Shortbread, 555 Creme Fraiche, Lemon Curd, Toasted Meringue, Apricot-Vanilla Syrup at Five Fifty-Five

Snell Farm Blueberry Shortbread, 555 Creme Fraiche, Lemon Curd, Toasted Meringue, Apricot-Vanilla Syrup at Five Fifty-Five

Sweet and Salty Sweetbreads, Caramelized Cauliflower, Braised Pistachios, Brown Butter, Fried Capers at Hugo's

Sweet and Salty Sweetbreads, Caramelized Cauliflower, Braised Pistachios, Brown Butter, Fried Capers at Hugo's

       

Population: 518,117
Population growth rate: 3.31%
Restaurants: 2,252
Restaurants per capita: 230
Annual restaurant sales: $937,604,173
Annual sales per restaurant: $611,614
Colleges and universities: 4
Tourism: more than 4 million people visit every year
Average rent: $908 (2011)
Median yearly temperature: 46.4°F
Number of different whale species sighted off the Maine Coast: 10
Total number whale species worldwide: 85

Portland, Oregon

Why chefs make the move and why we'd move there: .The brews and the brains of the people of Portland are what make it great. And the brews just don't stop at suds. Coffee culture is also thriving. But it's the post-tech (Dot Com bubble) boom and burst that gave birth to the original post-modern DIY culture in America. And it's Portland's do-it-you-own-damn-self mentality that sparked and nourished the flourishing restaurant scene. Come for an education, for beer, for coffee, to build your own restaurant and reputation; stay in Portland for the affordability, the mountains, and Willamette Valley wine.    

Duck Breast with Duck Skin Creamed Chard, Chestnut-Duck Confit Crepe, and Balsamic Candied Chestnuts at Le Pigeon

Duck Breast with Duck Skin Creamed Chard, Chestnut-Duck Confit Crepe, and Balsamic Candied Chestnuts at Le Pigeon

Roasted coffee beans at Ristretto Roasters

Roasted coffee beans at Ristretto Roasters

Spring Chicories and Corn Shoot Salad, Seared Giant Scallop, Prosciutto, and Apple Mint Candied Hazelnut Relish at Beast

Spring Chicories and Corn Shoot Salad, Seared Giant Scallop, Prosciutto, and Apple Mint Candied Hazelnut Relish at Beast

Steamed Manila Clams, House-made Fresh Chorizo, Parsley, Chives, and Oregano at Olympic Provisions

Steamed Manila Clams, House-made Fresh Chorizo, Parsley, Chives, and Oregano at Olympic Provisions

Strawberry-Basil-Cream Danish, and Rhubarb and Gina Marie Cream Cheese Danish at Little T American Bakery

Strawberry-Basil-Cream Danish, and Rhubarb and Gina Marie Cream Cheese Danish at Little T American Bakery

Population: 3,224,837
Colleges and universities: 18
Rank among U.S. cities for attracting and retaining the young and educated: 2 (Louisville is #1)
Breweries: 60 (#1 in the world)
Restaurants: 7,257
Restaurants per capita: 444
Annual restaurant sales: $3,726,252,010
Annual sales per restaurant: $690,686
Population growth rate: 1.8% (10.3% from 2000-2010)
Average rent: $938 per month (1 bedroom)
Rank among American cities for strip clubs per capita: 1
Number of dormant volcanoes within city limits: 1 
Median yearly temperature: 53.4°F
Number of annual pickle events: 3 (Perfect Pickle Competition, Picklefest, Kenny & Zuke's Pickle Throwdown)

Sources:
http://afterglobe.net/interesting-facts-about-portland-oregon/

http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/public%20factsheets/restaurant-growth-index.pdf

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2012/09/portland-really-where-young-people-go-retire/3316/

www.census.gov

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/25/best-restaurant-cities_n_2545499.html

http://kut.org/post/minimum-wage-job-austin-gets-you-two-bedroom-apt-and-111-hour-work-week

http://www.mns.com/brooklyn_rental_market_report

http://observer.com/2012/11/the-truth-about-brooklyns-overhyped-undercooked-food-scene/